George Horton, an amiable, robust man with a push-broom mustache,
smiled as he recalled the story. It was 1974, his first day of
practice at Cal State-Fullerton, and Horton, a first baseman who
had transferred from Hawaii, sat stretching in centerfield. "I
had the puka-shell necklace, the tan, the big hair, the open
shirt, the Fu Manchu--it was the '70s," he said. A voice boomed
at him from behind home plate: "This ain't Waikiki, brother." ¬∂
The voice belonged to second-year head coach Augie Garrido, who
would lead the Titans for 21 seasons, during which they would
win three national championships. As his first baseman for two
years and an assistant coach for six more, Horton learned from
Garrido before taking over as his successor in 1996 when
Garrido left for Texas. On Sunday at Rosenblatt Stadium in
Omaha the pupil schooled the teacher, as Cal State-Fullerton
came from behind for the second day in a row and beat Garrido's
Longhorns 3-2 to sweep the best-of-three championship series
and seize the school's fourth College World Series title, from
the man who put Fullerton on the map. As his players dogpiled
in celebration on the field, Horton found Garrido in the Texas
dugout. "I kind of tiptoed over there with a tear in my eye and
said, 'Thanks for the opportunity,'" Horton said afterward,
"because who knows where I'd be without him."
That Fullerton was celebrating was due in large part to the
efforts of senior Jason Windsor. The 6'2", 220-pound righthander
with a mouthful of braces stifled the Longhorns with a
complete-game five-hitter on Sunday. He threw 129 pitches,
boosting his total to 322 over nine days in Omaha, where he went
2-0 with a save, a 0.86 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 21 innings to
earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honor. Without
command of his curveball in the clincher, Windsor relied on his
fastball and his changeup to keep Texas off-balance. "Awesome,"
said Titans pitching coach Dave Serrano. "What Jason
did--throwing off-speed pitches behind in the count--was
Fullerton prevailed by getting to the Longhorns' vaunted bullpen
twice in consecutive days. When leading after six innings this
season, Texas had been 50-0, but the Titans chewed through go-to
relievers Buck Cody, J. Brent Cox and Huston Street, saddling
them with a 6.35 ERA, two losses and two blown saves. The
Longhorns' pen coughed up seventh-inning leads in both games. On
Sunday the damage was done by junior catcher Kurt Suzuki--2 for
20 in the College World Series to that point--who knocked in the
go-ahead run with a single off Cox. The day before, sophomore
leftfielder Danny Dorn had been the hero, blasting a two-run
double off Street to give Fullerton the lead for good in a 6-4
Sunday's win capped a stunning turnaround for Fullerton, which
lurched out of the gate with five losses in its first eight games
and had a 15-16 record at midseason. "We were at rock bottom,"
says senior first baseman P.J. Pilittere. "We lacked consistency,
and we were struggling to find a team personality."
It took the Titans a while to coalesce because their starting
lineup included four sophomores and a freshman. The bullpen also
proved to be a problem, as Fullerton dearly missed All-America
reliever Chad Cordero, who skipped his senior year to become the
closer for the Montreal Expos, the team that took him in the
first round of the 2003 draft.
After a pair of listless road losses to the Longhorns in March,
things began to improve, thanks in part to a 45-minute team
meeting Horton convened in the Titans' locker room in Austin. "He
reminded us about how past [Fullerton] teams had played," says
Dorn. "Scrappy. That's Titan baseball." With only one power
hitter--Suzuki--in its lineup, Fullerton had to subsist on
infield hits, bunts and stolen bases. Horton, who loves mantras,
reiterated two: Wiffle Ball, and Choke and Poke, reminding his
hitters to shorten their strokes and simply put balls in play.
Indeed, of the eight teams in Omaha, Texas and Fullerton ranked
first and second, respectively, in sacrifice bunts but seventh
and eighth in home runs, bucking the trend of power-hitting
success at the College World Series. Another maxim, BUNT AND
ATTACK, was featured on a sign in the Titans' dugout, and sure
enough, Fullerton ignited a three-run first inning last Saturday
with a bunt and two steals.
The championship, Horton's first, left him with a bittersweet
feeling. Though they have similar styles on the field, he and
Garrido are different off it. Horton, a pencil always stuck
behind his right ear, is comfortable eating at McDonald's, and
his tastes are more blue-collar than Garrido's. The urbane and
stylish Garrido has a running joke with his first baseman Curtis
Thigpen about whose designer jeans are more fashionable. The
title was powerful validation of Horton's coaching ability,
especially since it came against his mentor. "There's a mutual
respect," Horton said before the championship series began. "It's
like competing against your dad in Ping-Pong or basketball in the
front yard: You want to beat him, but you feel bad about it."
After Fullerton completed the sweep, Horton was true to his word.
His uniform still drenched from the drum of cold water his
players had gleefully poured over him, Horton shivered as he
spoke. "I think of Augie," he said, "and I hope his heart mends
COLOR PHOTO: ERIC FRANCIS/AP (LEFT) OVER THE TOP Horton was flooded with emotion after defeatingGarrido and bringing Fullerton its first title since 1995.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER WORKHORSE Windsor went the distance in the clincher and was namedMost Outstanding Player.